When the series first aired on TV the network changed the order of episodes. Apparently they wanted an "action" episode to air first and so they did not open the series with the pilot episode but rather with the second episode.
As the pilot episode introduces the story line, the characters and the world, it was idiocy to delay showing it. Not only did they not show it first, it was actually the last episode to air prior to cancellation in position 11.
In addition to moving the pilot from first to last, they also changed the order of other episodes. One has to wonder if the executives at Fox were intentionally trying to kill the series. It is fairly well known that they did not understand, nor did they like Firefly and this episode swapping seems like an attempt to render the story as incomprehensible to the audience as it apparently was to them.
Once the series was released on disc, Joss Whedon had them in the correct and intended order. Additionally, he was able to include three episodes that had never made it to air. As the discs were originally purchased by viewers who had watched the show when it was on — the vast majority of Firefly fans came to the series years after its cancellation — there was much confusion as to what the correct order was. To add to the confusion some websites listed the episodes as they had aired and some listed them as they were on the DVD.
Eventually this all straightened out and calmed down. Below is the order of episodes as Fox aired them. Following that is the correct order as they appear on the DVD.
Trash (11), The Message (12) and Heart of Gold (13) were never shown on TV.
Here is the correct order of episodes.
Due to the fact that Fox did not air the pilot episode first, no one knew who these people were, where they came from nor what the story was. That's kind of why you have pilot episodes, Fox, they explain all of that. Regardless, it was decided that they needed to have a voice-over "introduction" to the episodes to explain what was going on.
Fortunately, by the time the series made it to DVD, these narrations were dropped. They are not considered part of the Firefly canon. For those who did not see the series when it aired, here are the three variations used by Fox to explain to the poor viewers what they would have learned in the pilot episode.
The first four episodes shown - The Train Job, Bushwhacked, Our Mrs. Reynolds and Jaynestown - began with a narration by Shepard Book.BOOK After the Earth was used up, we found a new solar system and hundreds of new Earths were terra formed and colonized. The central planets formed the Alliance and decided all the planets had to join under their rule. There was some disagreement on that point. After the War, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain's goal was simple: find a crew, find a job, keep flying.
The next two episodes that were aired - Out Of Gas and Shindig - had a narration by Mal.MAL Here's how it is: Earth got used up, so we terraformed a whole new galaxy of Earths, some rich and flush with the new technologies, some not so much. Central Planets, them was formed the Alliance, waged war to bring everyone under their rule; a few idiots tried to fight it, among them myself. I'm Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity. Got a good crew: fighters, pilot, mechanic. We even picked up a preacher, and a bona fide companion. There's a doctor, too, took his genius sister out of some Alliance camp, so they're keeping a low profile. You got a job, we can do it, don't much care what it is.
The two episodes shown next - Safe and Ariel - also had a narration by Mal, but slightly different.MAL Here's how it is: The Earth got used up, so we moved out and terraformed a whole new galaxy of Earths, some rich and flush with the new technologies, some not so much. The Central Planets, them was formed the Alliance, waged war to bring everyone under their rule; a few idiots tried to fight it, among them myself. I'm Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity. Shes a transport ship, Firefly class. Got a good crew: fighters, pilot, mechanic. We even picked up a preacher for some reason, and a bona fide companion. There's a doctor too, took his genius sister out of some Alliance camp, so they're keeping a low profile, you understand. You got a job, we can do it, don't much care what it is.
The last three episodes to be aired - War Stories, Objects in Space and the pilot Serenity - had no narration at all.
As we have introduced Firefly to others, they always ask us what the Chinese phrases mean as there are no translations. So we created a "Viewer's Guide" that contains translations of the spoken Chinese as well as translations of the visible Chinese characters. Again, much thanks to Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary.
Chinese by Episode
Chinese by Character